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"The Kremlin sensed a threat": what do American experts think about the protests in Russia

Politicians in the United States were not surprised by the violence that the authorities in Moscow applied to fellow citizens who tried to exercise their right to protest peacefully last weekend - regular hearings in Congress and think tanks in Washington give a pretty complete picture of how the Kremlin and security forces increased the pressure on the protesters for the past seven years.

Фото: Depositphotos

However, the absence of surprise does not mean a lack of reaction: beatings and arrests were harshly condemned by the US Helsinki Commission, whose members most likely will not refuse to repeat this criticism in the face of Russian parliamentarians during meetings at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly sessions. The US Embassy in Moscow also condemned the dispersal of the rally as a disproportionate use of force, writes “Voice of America".

Political scientists in the United States who specialize in studying Russia, analyzing the unprecedented arrests of opposition politicians in Moscow, are trying to understand how the situation will develop further.

The actions of the authorities in Moscow - the result of miscalculation

A political analyst, an expert at the University of California at Los Angeles, Daniel Treisman is sure that Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and his subordinates were not ready for the mass protest: “I think the authorities miscalculated their assumptions about the level of reaction to the refusal to register candidates for the Moscow City Duma. . Obviously, people surrounded by Moscow’s Mayor Sergei Sobyanin showed inexperience - they first rigidly denied registration to people, and then, when the response to this harshness became widespread, they decided to intimidate the protesters with the use of force. ”

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Angela Stent, director of the Center for the Study of Eurasia, Russia and Eastern Europe at Georgetown University, says: “People in the Kremlin and at the level of Moscow who made decisions acted according to a directive according to which they were not supposed to recognize the legitimate right of opposition candidates to run for office. I think in the long run this was probably a mistake, because it is unlikely that opposition candidates and protesters will stop. This means that if opposition candidates are not allowed before the elections, at the time when the elections are held, the authorities may face even greater protests. ”

The result of the underestimation of the protest potential of Muscovites by Russian officials is that the vice-president of the Carnegie Foundation, Andrew Weiss, said: “We can say that we are dealing with a classic example in which people in power underestimate the situation - in this case, it’s impossible for opposition candidates to participate in local elections caused a rather angry response from a wider part of the public than the regime had expected. ”

The level of repression corresponds to the level of fright.

John Herbst, director of the Eurasian Atlantic Council program, said that the arrests and beatings were the result of the Kremlin’s current protest that frightened the Kremlin: “I think the authorities were very scared by the fact that these demonstrations were so long. We are well aware that Putin was frightened by the events at Bolotnaya 2012 of the year, and I think he perceived the current actions as a repetition of those events - that is why such repressions were used. It is also worth noting such a new detail, as an unexpected raid on the TV channel "Rain" - I think this indicates that the authorities are very concerned. "

According to Angela Stent, the Russian government is trying to strangle the rise of the opposition movement in the bud: “I think the Kremlin understands that now the opposition is consolidating, at least in Moscow. This time, the authorities, it seems to me, decided that the presence of opposition politicians in the Moscow City Duma would be a real threat. They are definitely trying to make people understand that they will not allow this, and that opposition candidates will not be included in the political system even at the local level. ”

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The stent, who recently published the book “Putin’s World: Against the West and with others” (Putin’s World: Russia Against the West and the Rest), explains why the Kremlin is scared and what it is trying to prevent: “The regime is afraid of growing support for any opposition candidates who could change or break the system, because this is the mode in which people in power control most of the country's assets. They feel that their welfare and personal freedom will be threatened if a real opposition candidate can get enough support to change the system. ”

Will violence work?

According to Daniel Treisman, the suppression of protest in this case may not work: “Now, unfortunately for the Moscow authorities, it is impossible to predict how this use of force will end. Sometimes, yes, it is possible to intimidate people, but often violence from the state only galvanizes a protest, makes it more aggressive and ready for more. ”

A political analyst from the University of California believes that competition between power groups will also play a role: “Everything depends on the nearest events: if it is clear that a tough reaction only worsens the situation, the Kremlin can decide that some other strategy is needed. But within the authorities themselves, there is a group that is trying to use this confrontation for its own purposes - to strengthen its position within the ruling elite. And the security forces are now clearly trying to consolidate their advantage, defending a hard line. This may push the regime towards even greater tightening in general. I expect that the tightening of the legislation may follow, because now Sobyanin and those who stand behind him cannot afford to lose. ”

Andrew Weiss also has doubts about the effectiveness of violence in the current Russian situation: “Arrests and violence remain as a typical tool, but how effective this tool is is still unknown. In various parts of Russia, we have seen a growing trend that ordinary people are willing to take risks to express dissatisfaction with the current government. How quickly this trend can - and whether it can even spread to a wider part of the Russian public - is very difficult to predict. ”

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Angela Stent fears increased confrontation, as one side increasingly relies on force, and the other is less willing to yield to this force: “The regime has become more authoritarian, and it is clearly able to use force to detain, persecute demonstrators and impose its will on the population . And if necessary, the regime can continue to pursue the demonstrators if they take to the streets again - and they will. I think that the weakness of the regime is that, at least in big cities such as Moscow, it becomes more difficult for him to get support, especially among young and more educated people, because he leaves them no choice. These people feel that they are denied the right to influence the political system, and they are tired of it. ”

2024 year - far or close?

“We need to understand what is happening in the context of the 2024 Problem of the Year,” continues Angela Stent. “The Kremlin and people associated with it are trying to determine what will happen with this system in anticipation of when President Putin will have to leave his post. I think they are already trying to create a system in which there will be a smooth transition - if there is a transition, and this is a big “if” - from one president to another, and he would continue the existence of this system. In the long term, this is due to the problem of the transfer of power as 2024 approaches. ”

John Herbst, in turn, does not believe that the Russian authorities are already trying to solve the “2024 Problem”: “It seems to me wrong to minimize the level of spontaneity and chaos in the decision-making process. Of course, after Bolotnaya, this was exactly the same - tightening of legislation, but before the events at Bolotnaya, and after them, the key restrictive laws were passed: after Beslan - cancellation of gubernatorial elections, more recently - restrictions on the Internet, I'm not talking about restrictions for media . I do not really see where else to tighten the nuts. I also think that the 2024 year is still quite far away, and this is unlikely to be a preparation for it already. ”

As previously wrote ForumDaily, during the protests in Moscow over a thousand people were arrestedMany protesters complained about the brutality of law enforcement.

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